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National Championship Prediction

Dakari Johnson
7 UConn vs. 8 Kentucky
For the third time in this tournament, Kentucky put their faith in true freshman, Aaron Harrison and the 19-year-old helped them defeat Wisconsin. He also hit big shots against Louisville in the Sweet 16 and his shot against Michigan in the Elite Eight might have been even better than the one over the Badgers. Kentucky now will meet up with UConn, who used DeAndre Daniels' great performance to stun the No.1 overall seed Florida. The 8 seeded Wildcats have had a rollercoaster of a year but there isn't denying how talented they are. Even without sophomore big man Willie Cauley-Stein these last couple games, others have stepped up and the 'Cats look extremely dangerous. The Huskies are also peaking as well, under senior Shabazz Napier, who is trying to replicate what Kemba Walker did a couple of years ago, and second-year coach Kevin Ollie. They meet tomorrow, one completing their Cinderella run and one getting so close.

Although they might not have the star power that Kentucky has, UConn has proven they clearly deserve in this game. The Huskies have beaten both Michigan State and Florida, two teams that were popular champion picks. It is clear that in order to beat UConn stopping Napier is key, but others stepping up have been key to their success. In the first half against Florida, Napier was clearly their number one priority and he struggled to be a factor early. Junior swingman DeAndre Daniels hit a couple big threes, and although he is streaky he should be counted on to contribute if Napier struggles. Napier is lethal when he can pick and pop but Florida defended it really well and Kentucky has the range and speed to cover him very well. Ryan Boatright is also a dangerous shooter who can be a real factor from downtown and has turned in a lot of quality minutes, he had 18 in the Final Four and is a hard-worker. Although it is a little bit undersized, the Huskies' frontcourt is deep and experienced. Senior Tyler Olander was a factor off the bench on that Kemba-led UConn team and he is a good rebounder and if he stays out of foul trouble, Amida Brimah can be a real factor. Ollie and UConn also needs senior wing Niels Giffey to play good defense and make a couple of shots. UConn's defense doesn't get a lot of credit, it has been a huge reason why the Huskies are here. They held Florida to 53 after a rough start and also held Michigan State to just 54. Napier and the rest of the Huskies' backcourt will need to pressure the Harrison twins, who have played very well this tournament obviously but can still struggle if you get enough pressure in their face.

Aaron Harrison's two three-pointers are likely to be played on highlight reels for a long time to come, but he does done a lot more for them than just hit big shots. He had 18 in their second round meeting with Kansas State and followed it up with 19 against Wichita. More importantly, he has cut down on turnovers, he has only had 2 in the last three games after struggling with turnovers throughout much of the year. His brother, Andrew, has also stepped up when the Wildcats have really needed it and he has played much smarter lately and has cut down on his turnovers. Defensively, both Harrisons have great size and are quick on help defense and are great on-ball defenders. In the frontcourt, Dakari Johnson, Julius Randle, Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress has more than made up for the absence of Cauley-Stein. Johnson is a massive, strong center who uses his size to carve out space in the paint and rotates very well on the defensive end. Randle, who was the 'Cats' leading scorer in the regular season has played well and can attack defenses in so many different ways. Lee was not much more than a shot blocker all year as a deep bench option. Though, he showed up in the Michigan game, making fantastic putback dunks, he is a solid rebounder. Poythress is a sophomore who is good on the dribble and provides some size on the wing.

It has been a crazy tournament filled with a fair share of upsets and buzzer beaters and it will end tomorrow with either a seven seed or eight seed wining it all. The difference will be how the backcourts play; UConn still needs Napier on his game to handle the Wildcats, well Kentucky needs production from the Harrisons and probably a couple big shots from James Young. The Wildcats will likely be favored and on paper they look like the better team but UConn will play for all 40 minutes and this one could go down to the wire.

Kentucky, 70 UConn, 67

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